Maugham, W(illiam) Somerset

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MAUGHAM, W(illiam) Somerset

Nationality: English. Born: Paris, of English parents, 25 January 1874. Education: King's School, Canterbury, Kent, 1885-89; University of Heidelberg, 1891-92; studied medicine at St. Thomas's Hospital, London, 1892-97: intern in Lambeth, London; qualified as surgeon, L.R.C.P., M.R.C.S., 1897. Military Service: Served in a Red Cross ambulance unit in Flanders, 1914-15, and in the British Intelligence Corps, 1916-17. Family: Married the interior designer Syrie Barnardo Wellcome in 1917 (divorced 1927); one daughter. Career: Accountant, briefly, 1892; writer from 1896; lived mainly in Paris, 1897-1907; traveled widely from 1916: visited the South Seas, China, Malaya, and Mexico; lived at Villa Mauresque, Cap Ferrat, France, from 1928; lived in the U.S. during World War II; instituted annual prize for promising young British writer, 1947. Awards: Fellow, and Companion of Literature, 1961, Royal Society of Literature. Commander, Legion of Honour; honorary senator, University of Heidelberg; honorary fellow, Library of Congress, Washington; D.C. Companion of Honour, 1954. D.Litt.: Oxford University, 1952; University of Toulouse. Member: American Academy of Arts and Letters. Died: 16 December 1965.


Short Stories

Orientations. 1899.

The Trembling of the Leaf: Little Stories of the South Sea Islands.1921; as Sadie Thompson and Other Stories of the South Seas, 1928; as Rain and Other Stories, 1933.

The Casuarina Tree: Six Stories. 1926; as The Letter: Stories of Crime, 1930.

Ashenden; or, The British Agent. 1928.

Six Stories Written in the First Person Singular. 1931.

Ah King: Six Stories. 1933.

The Judgement Seat (story). 1934.

East and West: Collected Short Stories. 1934; as Altogether, 1934.

Cosmopolitans. 1936.

Favorite Short Stories. 1937.

The Mixture as Before: Short Stories. 1940; as Great Stories of Love and Intrigue, 1947.

The Unconquered (story). 1944.

Creatures of Circumstance: Short Stories. 1947.

East of Suez: Great Stories of the Tropics. 1948.

Here and There. 1948.

Complete Short Stories. 3 vols., 1951.

The World Over: Stories of Manifold Places and People. 1952.

Best Short Stories, edited by John Beecroft. 1957.

A Maugham Twelve: Stories, edited by Angus Wilson. 1966; withCakes and Ale, 1967.

Malaysian Stories, edited by Anthony Burgess. 1969.

Seventeen Lost Stories, edited by Craig V. Showalter. 1969.

Collected Short Stories. 1996.

More Far Eastern Tales. 1998.


Liza of Lambeth. 1897; revised edition, 1904.

The Making of a Saint. 1898.

The Hero. 1901.

Mrs. Craddock. 1902.

The Merry-Go-Round. 1904.

The Bishop's Apron: A Study in the Origins of a Great Family. 1906.

The Explorer. 1907.

The Magician. 1908; with A Fragment of Autobiography, 1956.

Of Human Bondage. 1915.

The Moon and Sixpence. 1919.

The Painted Veil. 1925.

Cakes and Ale; or, The Skeleton in the Cupboard. 1930.

The Book-Bag. 1932.

The Narrow Corner. 1932.

Theatre. 1937.

Christmas Holiday. 1939.

Up at the Villa. 1941.

The Hour Before the Dawn. 1942.

The Razor's Edge. 1944.

Then and Now. 1946.

Catalina: A Romance. 1948.

Selected Novels. 3 vols., 1953.


Marriages Are Made in Heaven (as Schiffbrüchig, produced 1902).In The Venture Annual, edited by Maugham and Laurence Housman, 1903.

A Man of Honour (produced 1903). 1903.

Mademoiselle Zampa (produced 1904).

Lady Frederick (produced 1907). 1911.

Jack Straw (produced 1908). 1911.

Mrs. Dot (produced 1908). 1912.

The Explorer: A Melodrama (produced 1908; revised version produced 1909). 1912.

Penelope (produced 1909). 1912.

The Noble Spaniard, from a work by Ernest Grenet-Dancourt (produced 1909). 1953.

Smith (produced 1909). 1913.

The Tenth Man: A Tragic Comedy (produced 1910). 1913.

Landed Gentry (as Grace, produced 1910). 1913.

Loaves and Fishes (produced 1911). 1924.

A Trip to Brighton, from a play by Abel Tarride (produced 1911).

The Perfect Gentleman, from a play by Molière (produced 1913).

In Theatre Arts, November 1955.

The Land of Promise (produced 1913). 1913.

The Unattainable (as Caroline, produced 1916). 1923.

Our Betters (produced 1917). 1923.

Love in a Cottage (produced 1918).

Caesar's Wife (produced 1919). 1922.

Home and Beauty (produced 1919; as Too Many Husbands, produced 1919). 1923.

The Unknown (produced 1920). 1920.

The Circle (produced 1921). 1921.

East of Suez (produced 1922). 1922.

The Camel's Back (produced 1923).

The Constant Wife (produced 1926). 1927.

The Letter, from his own story (produced 1927). 1927.

The Sacred Flame (produced 1928). 1928.

The Bread-Winner (produced 1930). 1930.

Dramatic Works. 6 vols., 1931-34; as Collected Plays, 3 vols., 1952.

For Services Rendered (produced 1932). 1932.

The Mask and the Face, from a play by Luigi Chiarelli (produced1933).

Sheppey (produced 1933). 1933.

Six Comedies. 1937.

Trio: Stories and Screen Adaptations, with R.C. Sherriff and NoelLangley. 1950.


The Verger (in Trio), 1950.


The Land of the Blessed Virgin: Sketches and Impressions of Andalusia. 1905.

On a Chinese Screen. 1922.

The Gentleman in the Parlour: A Record of a Journey from Rangoon to Haiphong. 1930.

The Non-Dramatic Works. 28 vols., 1934-69.

Don Fernando; or, Variations on Some Spanish Themes. 1935.

My South Sea Island. 1936.

The Summing Up. 1938.

Books and You. 1940.

France at War. 1940.

Strictly Personal. 1941.

The Maugham Sampler, edited by Jerome Weidman. 1943; as The Maugham Pocket Book, 1944.

Of Human Bondage, with a Digression on the Art of Fiction(address). 1946.

Great Novelists and Their Novels: Essays on the Ten Greatest Novels of the World and the Men and Women Who Wrote Them. 1948; revised edition, as Ten Novels and Their Authors, 1954; as The Art of Fiction, 1955.

A Writer's Notebook. 1949.

A Maugham Reader, edited by Glenway Wescott. 1950.

The Writer's Point of View (lecture). 1951.

The Vagrant Mood: Six Essays. 1952.

Mr. Maugham Himself, edited by John Beecroft. 1954.

The Partial View (includes The Summing Up and A Writer's Notebook). 1954.

Points of View. 1958; as Points of View: Five Essays, 1959.

Purely for My Pleasure. 1962.

Selected Prefaces and Introductions. 1963.

Wit and Wisdom, edited by Cecil Hewetson. 1966.

Essays on Literature. 1967.

Letters to Lady Juliet Duff, edited by Loren D. Rothschild. 1982. A Traveller in Romance: Uncollected Writings 1901-1964, edited by John Whitehead. 1984.

Editor, with Laurence Housman, The Venture Annual of Art and Literature. 2 vols., 1903-04.

Editor, The Truth at Last, by Charles Hawtrey. 1924.

Editor, The Travellers' Library. 1933; as Fifty Modern English Writers, 1933.

Editor, Tellers of Tales: 100 Short Stories from the United States, England, France, Russia, and Germany. 1939; as The Greatest Stories of All Times, 1943.

Editor, A Choice of Kipling's Prose. 1952; as Maugham's Choice of Kipling's Best: Sixteen Stories, 1953.



Theatrical Companion to Maugham: A Pictorial Record of the First Performance of the Plays of Maugham by Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, 1955; A Bibliography of the Works of Maugham by Raymond Toole Scott, 1956, revised edition, 1973; Maugham: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him by Charles Saunders, 1970; W. Somerset Maugham: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism, 1969-1995 by Troy James Bassett, 1996.

Critical Studies:

Maugham by J. Brophy, 1952, revised edition, 1958; The Maugham Enigma, 1954, and The World of Maugham, 1959, both edited by K.W. Jonas; Maugham: A Candid Portrait by K. G. Pfeiffer, 1959; Maugham: A Biographical and Critical Study by Richard A. Cordell, 1961, revised edition, 1969; Maugham: A Guide by Laurence Brander, 1963; The Two Worlds of Maugham by Wilmon Menard, 1965; Remembering Mr. Maugham by Garson Kanin, 1966; Somerset and All the Maughams, 1966, and Conversations with Willie: Recollections of Maugham, 1978, both by Robin Maugham; Maugham by M. K. Naik, 1966; A Case of Human Bondage by Beverley Nichols, 1966; The Dramatic Comedy of Maugham by Robert E. Barnes, 1968; Maugham by Ivor Brown, 1970; Maugham and the Quest for Freedom, 1972, and Willie: The Life of Maugham, 1989, both by Robert L. Calder; The Pattern of Maugham, 1974, and Maugham, 1977, both by Anthony Curtis; Maugham and His World by Frederic Raphael, 1976, revised edition, 1989; Maugham by Ted Morgan, 1980; Maugham: The Critical Heritage edited by Anthony Curtis and John Whitehead, 1987; Maugham by Archie K. Loss, 1987; W. Somerset Maugham: A Study of the Short Fiction by Stanley Archer, 1993; Orienting Masculinity, Orienting Nation: W. Somerset Maugham's Exotic Fiction by Philip Holden, 1996.

* * *

Somerset Maugham was born in France and lived there until the age of ten. He spoke, read, and wrote French with fluency, and his early intimacy with the language and the literature was to be an important factor in shaping his art. The French taste for logic and clarity appealed to him, and he liked a short story to have what he called "a beginning, a middle, and an end." One of his models was Guy de Maupassant, who specialized in the technique of the surprise ending. A vivid example of how Maugham uses this device is to be found in "Honolulu" (in The Trembling of the Leaf), ostensibly a tale of passion and black magic, which concludes with a brief exchange of dialogue where the import of the story is abruptly reversed and one is left admiring his nonchalant skill. Maugham elaborated this device by using the medium of the short story to show how the force of circumstance can reveal totally unexpected traits in a character. In "The Lion's Skin" (in The Mixture as Before) a jumped-up snob who marries for money displays nobility and courage by dying in the attempt to rescue his wife's beloved dog from a fire. "Mr. Know-All" (in Cosmopolitans) tells how the vain, flashy protagonist gallantly saves the reputation of a lady at the cost of his own limitless self-esteem. "Mr. Harrington's Washing" (in Ashenden) has for its hero a dull, pompous, conventional businessman who not only commits a heroic deed but also, to his genuine astonishment, inspires the love of a passionate Russian woman.

Long before the days of speedy air travel Maugham had ranged the world, often at some discomfort and danger, exploring remote countries in the Far East, Asia, China, the South Seas, and Russia. Here he found ample material. The bulk of his tales with exotic settings are in The Trembling of the Leaf, Ashenden, Ah King, and The Casuarina Tree. One should not look to them for penetrating analyses of the Malay or the Chinese character. Maugham is only interested in white people, the colonial civil servants and the planters, who are confronted with situations involving sex, passion, and class distinction that would never have been faced in the genteel surroundings of Esher or Chislehurst. Maugham is concerned with studying their reactions, which are often quite different from what you might expect. In "The Vessel of Wrath" (in Ah King), set on a tropical island, a missionary, who is a middle-aged, puritanical spinster, falls in love with the local drunk, a layabout of appalling habits who, duly reformed, returns her affection. A situation like this, which delighted Maugham's cynical sense of humor (another example is "Winter Cruise" in Creatures of Circumstance), is less common than the drama, the tragedy even, that haunts most of his stories about far-off places. In "The Force of Circumstance" (in The Casuarina Tree) a newly married young Englishwoman sails out to join her husband, a long-established colonial administrator. Gradually she comes to realize that in years past he has lived with a native girl who has given birth to two children by him. Her world collapses. In bitter disgust she leaves him, and the native girl moves back in to share his bed. Another favorite theme of Maugham's Malayan stories is the behavior of people under the stress of crisis. "The Door of Opportunity" (in Ah King) draws a portrait of a brilliantly gifted man with a first-class brain; he is handsome, ambitious, and able to solve any problem in a flash. But he does not suffer fools gladly and is unpopular with his less clever colleagues. A native uprising takes place, and he refuses to intervene immediately because cold logic tells him that the risk is not justified. Unfortunately common sense would have taken a different view, and that is the opinion of the governor, who dismisses him for cowardice. His wife, full of contempt, walks out on him: she would prefer to have as husband a second-rate planter with common human virtues rather than an intellectual iceberg.

When a literary critic dismissed a volume of Maugham's short stories with the phrase "the mixture as before," the author amusedly chose it for the title of his next collection. It is true that a formula can be discerned in his stories, largely due to his love of paradox. When he introduces two brothers, one a conscientious hard worker and the other a charming ne'er-do-well, the reader knows that it is the latter who will prosper and end up, quite undeservedly, rich and successful ("The Ant and the Grasshopper," in Cosmopolitans). If Maugham's protagonist has a young son, handsome and clever, whom he solemnly advises to avoid gambling, lending money, and women on his first trip to Monte Carlo, readers somehow guess that the boy will indulge without harm in all these activities and will confound his world-wise father ("The Facts of Life," in The Mixture as Before). The pleasure lies in the telling of the story and the incidental detail so skillfully placed. Pomposity discomfited is another preferred topic, as in "The Colonel's Lady" (in Creatures of Circumstance), where the faded, middle-aged wife suddenly publishes a sensational book of poems about a youthful love affair she once had. Her embarrassed country-gentleman husband, long accustomed to finding sex elsewhere than in the marriage bed, can only gasp unbelievingly: "What in the name of heaven did the fellow ever see in her?" Maugham had a sharp eye for the negative aspects of women: their bitchiness, their shamelessness, their lack of humor, and their vanity ("The Three Fat Women of Antibes," in The Mixture as Before). Yet there were times when even he, as in "Jane" (in First Person Singular), had to express wry admiration for their strength of character and their ability to use men.

"Since the beginning of history," Maugham observed in the preface to Creatures of Circumstance, "men have gathered round the camp fire or in a group in the market place to listen to the telling of stories. The desire to listen to them appears to be as deeply rooted in the human animal as the sense of property. I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller." Some of the stories he told were written more than 70 years ago. Apart from occasional stilted phrases and outdated slang they remain as compulsively readable as they were when they first appeared. He always makes you want to turn over the page and find out how the story ends. And that, in the last resort, is the only worthwhile test of a writer's skill that matters.

—James Harding

See the essays on "The Letter" and "The Outstation."

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Maugham, W(illiam) Somerset

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